Prague, away from the crowds

Why it is worth venturing out of the old city centre to discover Prague’s quirkier side.

Prague is the city of a Hundred Spires, a city better known for its picturesque spire-studded skyline that traces silhouettes of the aged statues on Charles Bridge, the majestic Prague Castle and the ribbon of River Vltava that divides the banks.

There is much to see, but I came looking for something more than the average guidebook recommendations.

More than the Old City Square and pastel-coloured Baroque facades surrounding it, vibrant with markets and buskers, and away from the waves of crowds that have become a permanent fixture in the city.

Take a culinary walk through town

As much as all the sanitary habits intrigued me, there was no time to linger. I was about to satisfy my culinary cravings on a tour through town with Eating Prague Tours. Our tour began at a traditional gingerbread bakery, Perníčkův sen, just north of the Old Town in the Jewish Quarter. The cheerful little shop tickled our nostrils with aromas of spices and aroused our appetite with samples of Koláče, a soft gingerbread with poppy seed filling, and Sakra, a small biscuit-like gingerbread laced with walnuts and jam. It was the perfect entrée to the next three hours of degustation walking. “Prague is a fantastic foodie destination,” Eating Europe Tours Operations Manager, Jan Macuch, said. “The city has revived our own interest in good food, bringing out the best of the central European food fusion that constitutes this country’s culinary tradition.”

Indeed, as we stopped at each of the ‘stations’ while traversing the parts of Prague less-visited by mainstream tourists, we were courted by a variety of seasoning styles and eating methods. From colourful open-faced sandwiches – Chlebíčky – to traditionally cured meats and sausages of all kinds, sauerkraut soup and fluffy bread-like dumplings – every course on the road embraced flavours of cuisines past and present, both home grown in the Czech Republic or influenced by neighbouring nations.

Beer paradise

After all the walking and eating I was a bit thirsty, so I asked my guide where he would recommend a beer lover go. “Well… if you are up for it you could try the beer spa! ” It’s one thing to love having a beer with your meal, another thing to run a bath with it. I dipped myself neck to toe in the hot bubbling liquid amber at Bernard Beer Spa with a stein of cold beer in one hand and a bread made with beer in the other. What a way to top off a day filled with the bizarre and the weird, the side of Prague away from the main tourist crowds. Well, cheers to that!

žižkov television tower: a brutalist prague

I began my day on a breakfast date with this giant, novelty, tin straw of a tower. Built like a crooked sewing needle on a cushion of red-tiled rooftops, the tower looks like a futuristic rocket among the more pleasing Baroque facades. It is decorated with fibreglass sculptures of climbing babies, like ants exploring a sticky, abandoned straw. A typical brutalist, Soviet-era building standing 216 metres high, the Žižkov Television Tower is Prague’s tallest building, and has the dubious honour of being the second ugliest in the world.

The best and worst thing about it, depending on perception, is that it’s right there, in your face – a dominant fixture on an otherwise ancient horizon. When it was built between 1985 and 1992, the tower was not exactly welcomed by locals. Not anymore though. The tower is now being branded as a tourist attraction, complete with a fine dining restaurant, bar, observation deck and a one room hotel in each of the hanging pods. My visit to the observation pod was strangely quiet. It could have been the time of morning, or visitors haven’t yet discovered the tower’s comical charm. “Well, we get some foreign tourists here,” the girl behind the information desk said. “But I think most people still prefer to stay around the old city, that’s the Prague they know.”

A museum of the loo

My next stop is the curious Museum of Hygiene. Recently opened in the Old Town, it contains the world’s largest collection of items relating to human waste disposal.  I came here for a giggle, but this is a place where toilet humour has been transformed into works of art. Some of the bed pans and bowls date back to the 15th Century, and feature art work as exquisite as that found in major art galleries.